Desperate for relief after losing indoor dining, restaurant workers, owners and advocates marched through Manhattan on Dec. 15 appealing for aid to rescue the industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s second devastating wave.
The marchers also protested the latest pandemic restrictions just a day after the indoor dining closure went into effect. More than 1,000 individuals gathered at the red steps in Times Square, then headed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office, to plead for assistance during what has become the industry’s most difficult period in history.
Brandishing signs and large banners reading, “Save my daddy’s business,” and “Open restaurants,” demonstrators huddled between the bright, flashing billboards on 47th street and 7th Avenue, chanting “Save Our Restaurants,” “Save Our jobs,” and “Why, Cuomo, why?”
Cuomo ordered on Dec. 11 a cessation of indoor dining in New York City, which took effect on Dec. 14. The governor cited the recent spike in COVID-19 cases citywide, a rapid increase in virus transmission and concerns about rising hospitalization rates as factors that led to the decision.
Restaurant owners, waiters, busboys, hostesses, and other eatery employees from businesses throughout the tri-state area combined their voices during Tuesday march, which even enlisted well-known industry leaders, members of the Chambers of Commerce, elected officials, and loyal customers.
The rally began with speakers erecting a makeshift podium and pleading their case: In order to survive during this pandemic, restaurants must be reopened.
“Over 6,000 businesses have closed since the beginning of the pandemic! The report from the New York City Hospitality Alliance shows that two-thirds of restaurants said they are likely to close by the end of the year without a comprehensive relief package by our government,” said Jeffrey Garcia, chairman of the NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association, representing over 150 members throughout New York’s nightlife establishments.
Restaurants are facing a dire situation already with a lack of customers and an investment in third party delivery services as well as building outdoor dining areas with heating for the winter. The closing of indoor dining has exacerbated an already dark time for them.
“We are here today to demand funding for the restaurant industry, specifically the Restaurant Revitalization Act, and we ask Governor Cuomo to open us up,” Garcia said.
According to Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, he told the crowd that there is not enough support being provided to the restaurant industry and a recovery back to normalcy will not be possible without aid.
Prior to the pandemic there were over 25,000 restaurant businesses open, employing over 300,000 people. Once the pandemic crisis hit New York City, that number diminished rapidly to 90,000.
When indoor and outdoor dining was reinstated, the industry was able to supply more jobs, but Rigie shared that the recent closures of indoor dining will cause these jobs to be eviscerated.
“Restaurants are the economic engines of our entire city and when you close and cut them off, and not give them the support, you are stifling and choking the life out of everything for people in this city. I’m here today to say that we must be sure that our restaurants are thriving, growing, and prospering. That is the only way back to ensure that our city returns back,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams added.
One by one, speakers shared their stories, each person begging for their livelihoods to be restored by the passing of the Restaurant Revitalization Act, which will provide $120 billion in funds to independent restaurant businesses who have struggled during the pandemic.
“We told them to build outside. We told them to prepare inside so that people can be socially distant. They went out and they spent thousands of dollars, took out loans, and now we are going to turn our backs on them? This isn’t fair! This is not the kind of country that we fought for! We are not going to let it. We are going to fight to make sure that every single one of you survives because you helped us survive,” said Queens Assemblymember Catalina Cruz.
Once the speakers finished declaring their support for restaurants, the protesters took to the streets chanting as they made their way past Grand Central Stations and down to Governor Cuomo’s office, at 633 Third Ave..